Fort Frances Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan has wanted his team to play a full 60 minutes all season long, and to start out with the lead instead of fighting to come back during the late stages of a game.
After suffering a 5-4 shootout loss in Sioux Lookout on Wednesday evening, the Lakers bounced right back with one of their best efforts of the season here Friday night, blanking the Duluth Clydesdales 5-0 to improve their record to 8-2-1.
“I was definitely pleased with the guys jumping out to the lead in the first period and not having to battle back throughout the game,” Strachan smiled.
“I don’t know if it was a full 60-minute effort as we still have some things we need to shore up in our own end, and I think we still need to be more physical out there,” he noted.
“We’re making progress, though, and you can’t complain about having no goals against and a victory to end the week.”
The Lakers opened up the scoring at the 3:53 mark of the first period on a bizarre shorthanded goal by Ryan Wildman, who swiped the puck away from Clydesdales’ goalie Matt Arnold and shot it into a wide-open cage.
“I noticed that he thought the puck was covered but I didn’t want to rush in right away because he probably would have figured out that something was up,” Wildman recalled.
“I kind of just glided in there for a second and I just snuck in and put it home, so that was a quite a gift as that type of goal doesn’t happen too often,” he added.
Defenceman Mike Riffel scored on the power play later in the first period to give the Lakers a two-goal lead, with rookie forward Jordan Larson netting a pair in the second to give the home side a four-goal cushion.
Jon Carlson completed the scoring with a power-play goal early in the third, to go along with an assist earlier in the game and a thundering hit on Jordan Shockley late in the contest, which left the Clydesdale forward folded up like an accordion.
“I thought I got kind of lucky there with that hit, to be honest,” Carlson joked.
“Overall, I thought I played well as I had a lot of ice time with only four defencemen, so it was a good game for me in that sense and I was lucky enough to get a couple of points,” he added.
At the other end of the ice, Lakers’ goalie Tyler Ampe earned his first shutout of the season, turning aside all 39 shots he faced to garner the game’s first star.
“It feels pretty good,” said Ampe, who had two shutouts last season.
“I have to thank a couple of my defenders for helping me out there, especially Marty [McFadden] in the first period, and this kind of gets the burden off of my shoulder to try and get a shutout this season,” he remarked.
“Now that I have that out of the way, I can just focus more on playing my game from here on it,” Ampe stressed.
“I thought he played very well and he was really focused, which is something we’ve been talking to him about as of late,” Strachan said.
“He was normal self tonight [Friday] as he was strong to the net and square to the puck.
“And in the first and second periods, he made some huge saves that not only helped him to get the shutout, but to also give the team the win,” Strachan added.
Friday’s win came a couple of days after the Lakers saw a four-game win streak come to a screeching halt at the hands of the host Sioux Lookout Flyers.
The Lakers were unable to complete a comeback from a 3-0 deficit early in the second period and fell 5-4 in a shootout.
“We threw a whole bunch of shots at their goalie [Jayme Brattengeier] in the final two periods, and to me he was the main difference as he made many game-stopping saves to keep the game tied going into overtime,” Strachan recalled.
“In the shootout, we had the upper-hand for one shooter [Ben Michaud] but they came back-to-back and scored to win it.
“I think that our shooters were trying to be a little fancy at times with the ice conditions that we were facing,” Strachan explained.
On Friday night, the Lakers welcomed newly-acquired forward Kody Kennedy to the lineup. The 18-year-old from Beausejour, Man. replaced the hole left by the departure of Wayne Folster, who was traded to the Norway House North Stars last week.
“Kody’s a kid that we tried to get here from Winkler [Flyers] three weeks ago, but he went to pressure another avenue first before coming here,” Strachan said of Kennedy, who is the nephew for former NHL’er Sheldon Kennedy.
“He skates well, he’s strong on the boards, he has good hockey sense, and he has the ability to put the puck in the net, so I feel he’s going to add a lot to our team.”
On the injury front, both Alex Bruess and Colton Spicer returned to the lineup this past week after lengthy absences with facial and shoulder injuries, respectively.
But while the team welcomed those two players back to the fold, the Lakers still are without captain Blake Boaz (wrist), Jon
Stephansson (concussion), and Mike Jourdain (hand) for the time being.
“At this point, I would say that Blake is still out until the first week of November,” noted Strachan. “And for Mike, I’m hoping that by next week it becomes a day-to-day thing with him.
“With Jon, it doesn’t really seem like he’s progressing a lot, but I think he needs a little rest and to back off trying to push himself back in.
“Shortens us a little on defence, but we’ll work with it and we have forwards I think we can put back there that can do the job,” he reasoned.
Following a game here last night against Dryden (the score was unknown as of press time), the Lakers will square off versus the Ice Dogs again tomorrow night up there.
The Lakers then will travel to Chisholm next Tuesday night (Oct. 25) for a match-up with the Iron Range Ironheads before returning home to host Sioux Lookout on the Friday (Oct. 28).